What to know about ear mites in cats

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What to know about ear mites in cats - cat itching their ear

Ear mites are highly contagious for cats as well as dogs. This external parasite looks similar to a tick but is so small it’s almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Microscopic examination of debris from the ear is necessary to distinguish ear mites from more common types of ear infections, but there are several clues that may indicate your feline friend might have an ear mite infestation. Read on to learn more about:

  • What ear mites are
  • The signs and symptoms to watch for
  • How to get rid of ear mites in your cat

If you find what looks like black dirt in your cat’s ears or your cat is scratching at their ears, you may be surprised to learn that these are some of the first signs of an ear mite infestation. Prompt action is needed to prevent the infestation from spreading to other animals in your household. The good news is that ear mites are not only treatable but also preventable, as you can take steps to stop them from playing havoc on your furry friend in the first place.

What are ear mites?

An ear mite parasite digs beneath the skin lining the ear canal. Mites are more irritating to your cat rather than a severe threat. This parasite is highly contagious, so it can transfer between animals quickly. All household pets will most likely require the six-week treatment to fully eliminate the infestation.

Only cats who have close contact with other infested animals are at risk of developing an ear mite infestation, which may sometimes lead to a secondary bacterial or fungal ear infection. This parasite, also known as Otodectes cynotis, infects cats and dogs, living off the blood in their ears.

If you notice your beloved animals seem to have itchy ears, schedule a veterinarian appointment immediately to get them diagnosed. Dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets can all contract ear mites.

What are the signs and symptoms of an ear mite infestation?

Cats with Otodectes cynotis may show symptoms such as head shaking, itchiness and excessive scratching of the ears, red and sore ear canal, ear inflammation, and dry, dark ear discharge resembling coffee grounds. The parasite feeds on the cat's skin and ear surface debris, causing irritation. Affecting one or both ears, ear mites cause irritation and inflammation, so watch out for signs of discomfort in your pet.

Ear mites in the early stage of infestation can be challenging to detect in cats. A large infestation of mites can look like a thick accumulation of dark crust in the ear canal. The ears may be disfigured and discolored. Without proper care, the parasite can lead to secondary bacterial or yeast infections. The symptoms of all types of ear infection are similar, so consult a vet to establish a diagnosis and follow their medical advice.

How do you get rid of ear mites in cats?

Prevention is always best, but if your cat does develop an ear mite infestation, there are several treatment methods your veterinarian can recommend.

The first step is getting an accurate diagnosis since other ear problems can have similar symptoms.  Microscopic examination of debris from the ear is necessary to confirm the presence of mites and rule out bacterial and fungal infections.

Treatment of ear mites

There are different types of medication available for mite infestations. Additional treatment might be necessary for a secondary infection. All animals in the home must be treated since ear mites are contagious. Treating only one animal in the household allows for a rapid re-infection once the treatment protocol ends. Perform another ear swab using a home testing kit approximately one month after starting treatment to confirm the infestation is gone.

“Eliminating ear mites is a lot easier than it used to be, thanks to modern parasite control products that are often effective with a single dose,” says Dr. Jo Myers, a veterinarian at Vetster. “A thorough ear cleaning is also beneficial, and you still have to make sure all the other pets in the household are treated, but this is a big improvement over having to apply ear drops repeatedly.”

A variety of products are available, including ear drops and spot-on medications applied to the skin at the back of the neck. Many modern flea and tick products are also effective for ear mites, so that’s another option. Note: always consult a vet before choosing flea and tick products, especially for cats. Some formulations of these products are highly toxic to cats.

A mite’s complete life cycle lasts from 18 to 28 days, and consistent treatment is required to kill the eggs. The most effective, safe, and cost-effective strategy is to reach out to a vet as soon as possible.

What else can I do to prevent ear mites?

Ear mites are most commonly transferred by close contact with an infected animal so, as mentioned above, treat all animals in your home. Ear mites can survive in the environment for short periods if the temperature is right, but this is not their primary mode of transmission. Outdoor cats are more likely to have exposure to infected animals and are at higher risk.

With that in mind, indoor cats are less likely to be exposed. Indoor cats usually come into contact with ear mites through a new cat or kitten, especially if they’re from a high-risk environment like a barn. You can prevent ear mites in cats through regular use of a veterinarian-recommended parasite control medication. These are beneficial because they also contain several other medications to prevent other internal and external parasites. This is especially important for cats who go outside.

If you suspect your furry friend has contracted this parasite, contact a vet by booking an online virtual care appointment with Vetster to get on top of all your pet’s health concerns today.

FAQ - How do I know if my cat has ear mites and what can I do about it?

Are mites contagious?

Yes, ear mites are incredibly contagious, which is why all pets in the household require treatment even if only one animal is showing symptoms.

Can humans catch ear mites from cats?

Only on very rare occasions have people been infested with ear mites.

Do home remedies for ear mites work?

It is not recommended to try home remedies like baking soda, green tea, or olive oil as treatments for ear mites in your cat. These remedies are not proven to work and may be dangerous, so do not try them.  Consult a veterinarian for a complete treatment and prevention plan.

How do I prevent ear mites?

As cat owners, we must monitor our pet's behavior. The best prevention against ear mites is to avoid direct contact with infested animals and to follow your vet’s parasite control plan. Pay attention to your cat's ears, and contact a veterinarian to diagnose the problem if early symptoms develop.